UPDATE: A temporary restraining order to block the implementation of the city of Cincinnati’s controversial parking lease was denied by Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Ralph Winkler Wednesday.
Winkler said the changes made to lease were not substantial enough to back up the lawsuit's claim that the city manager went above the law.
CINCINNATI -- Opponents of the city of Cincinnati’s controversial parking lease are asking a judge to block its implementation unless City Council votes on the deal again.
Two lease critics, Tom Brinkman Jr. and Mark W. Miller, filed a complaint today seeking a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against the lease.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Ralph Winkler will hold a hearing on the request at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Brinkman and Miller argue that the lease has undergone “significant and material changes” since the version that City Council approved in March.
Council approved the lease of city-owned parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority last spring.
During the past 75 days, however, the Port Authority has reviewed the lease and made some changes in negotiations with two subcontractors, Xerox Corp. and Denison Parking. Xerox would manage the meters, while Denison Parking would manage the garages and lots.
In their complaint, Brinkman and Miller noted a lease provision was changed involving the city’s right to terminate the deal.
Under the version approved by council, the lease could be terminated if a bond agreement hadn’t been finalized by June 30.
The latest version of the lease, however, doesn’t include a specific date when the city could cancel the deal. Instead, it is a floating date subject to further indefinite extensions by the Port Authority.
“Clearly, such a change – which diminishes a right of the city – constitutes a significant and material change in the lease agreement that the Cincinnati City Council authorized,” the complaint states.
Since City Council's 5-4 vote in March to approve the deal, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan -- a former supporter -- said the lease should be revisited. But Mayor Mark Mallory has used a procedural manuever under council's rules to block a new vote.
City Solicitor John Curp expressed dismay at the court filing. Opponents already lost in court once, in June, when an appellate court said they had no right to delay the lease for a voter referendum.
"It's unfortunate in that we've already been through this once," Curp said. "It's more of the same, trying to create delay to gain political advantage."
Brinkman and Miller are part of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a group opposed to the lease.
Other groups opposed to the deal include the NAACP’s local chapter and some neighborhood councils.
COAST's previous legal challenge caused the lease to be delayed by three months, Curp said. In that time, interest rates have increased for the bonds that will finance the lease.
"Generally, courts don't allow you to prosper from a delay you created," Curp said, referring to opponents. "Once again, they're trying to overturn the legislative arm of government."
But Pete Witte, a Price Hill business owner opposed to the lease, disagreed.
"I believe the best bet is to allow the November (referendum) to happen, giving a new council and mayor the chance to decide if the city should proceed with any plan involving parking," Witte said.
City Council and mayoral elections will be held Nov. 5. The new officials will take office in early December.
Under the deal, the city’s parking meters would be leased to the Port Authority for 30 years, while its garages and lots would be leased for 50 years.
In return, the city would receive a $92 million upfront payment, along with annual payments of about $3 million.
The Port Authority would issue bond debt to pay for improvements and technological upgrades to the parking facilities.
City officials plan to use the money to quicken the pace of some development projects, as well as possibly help close an unfunded liability in the city’s pension fund.
Some small business owners and neighborhood groups worry that rate increases and aggressive enforcement would harm businesses.
The Port Authority would get annual management fees of about $300,000. Also, Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner has asked City Council for $27 million of the $92 million upfront money.
Under a proposed deal, the Port Authority would issue bonds to pay for meter upgrades, but City Hall keeps control.
This week, Kevin Osborne interviews U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
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